The October Diaries: Society

Society-1989-film-Brian-Yuzna Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Sean & Christof

October 17th, 2014:

Year: 1989
Director: Brian Yuzna
Format: DVD
From Amazon: 17 year-old Billy Whitney feels alienated from his upper-class Beverly Hills family.
Tagline: “It is a matter of good breeding. Really.”

Sean’s Take:

This is the precise type of movie I’m secretly hoping for each time we hit play in our living room. 1989’s Society was just smart enough to avoid insulting my intelligence while not being too snobbish to indulge in some pretty flamboyant body horror. Professional 80’s horror cinephiles call this “the sweet spot.”

Society follows a young high school jock, Bill, as he tries to figure out why he feels like he doesn’t belong. He’s popular, his lifestyle is very posh and things seem to be going his way. But something’s off, and it’s not just the jumble of sexual tension he juggles between three different girls (one is kind of his sister!). Once the clues start dropping, suspicions are quickly raised. Since this is a horror movie, of course those suspicions are sound and he uncovers a society composed of a different species — one that has been around as long as us humans have. This species lives opulently and literally feeds on the lower class whenever it’s hungry.

This was a fun premise served with just the right amount of juice. Certain plot elements might raise certain hyper-critical eyebrows, but all should be forgiven by the gleeful last third of the movie. I feel like I’ve already reiterated the importance of a good finale enough times this month, so I’ll just say that Society must’ve known endings have the capability to leave the biggest impression on the viewer because Society feels plotted with an aim to go out on a high note.

A favorite image from early in the movie was a woman’s naked torso, hardly visible through the warped glass door of a shower. Something feels immediately wrong about the image (not just wrong because shower peeping) and it took me a moment to realize the outline of the breasts were right above the outline of the ass. It was a flash of twisty-torso surprise that was subtle enough that I almost missed it.

This light peppering of fun imagery sustained me until the aforementioned finale hit and that’s when Society puffs its chest out. Everything that comes before gets eclipsed by the closing spectacle. Plot points and bodies converge  together while secrets emerge — all during an orgy of body horror that fulfills the early hints of promise.

I’ll finish by mentioning that Society features more than one shot of people getting pulled inside-out and I feel so fondly about this movie because I tend to throw my support behind this level of generous excess.


Christof’s Take:

This movie is silly.

You can see why the producer of Re-Animator would make a movie like this for his directorial debut. A movie that is absurd and uncomfortable body horror. Even though the Wikipedia page notes that it “is considered to be a minor entry in the body horror sub-genre”, it’s one of the ones that – in addition to being disgusting – is also thematically body horror. The film is about bodies.

Our lead character is the type of guy who can win a debate by making a disgraceful mockery of it, and he’s also supposedly good at basketball, I guess.  But even with all these debate and basketball trophies breaking all the shelves in the house under their prestigious weight, he still feels like he doesn’t belong. He is torn between the common man and his highfalutin, fancy-pants family. When he isn’t stressing over his station in life, he is repressing sexual urges for almost any woman in sight, including his sister.

At one point, he sees his sister’s body through the distorting glass of a shower door, and she appears to have her torso on backwards while she washes herself and moans inhumanly. This is just a taste of the body horror on horizon.

As it should be, Billy’s fears act as his true enemy in the end. The personification of his paranoid anxiety-lust is one of many limbs – the many people of a secret society. You never know who may be a part of it because they appear discrete in the streets when in fact they are freaks in the sheets.

During the climax there is a parading show-case of truly impressive and disturbing practical special effects. This ending’s body horror finale is a good defense for such practical effects, which has become less and less practical over the last couple decades.

If Hollywood threw millions of dollars at the best teams of CGI artists and had them digitally reconstruct the effects and superimpose them over the current images of Society, the end result would be a disappointment by comparison. I’m sure the CGI version would look less hokey in certain aspects, but I’m pretty sure the original effects would do the better job of offending people’s sensibilities and making them feel a little sick. Computer generated images so far can match neither the wonder nor the nausea of seeing real fake things.

It’s hard to recommend this movie. It’s also hard not to.

If you love Stuart Gordon’s films, you will probably have a palette for Society.



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